While it’s an indispensable part of the small business landscape, many employees still don’t fully understand what “the cloud” is.
Cloud apps and services have helped put SMEs on a footing with their enterprise counterparts. However, the cloud revolution isn’t quite complete – despite the benefits, many SME employees still don’t fully understand what the cloud actually is, or why it’s important to their business.
What is the cloud?
At a basic level, the cloud is facilitated by good old-fashioned hardware – third-party networked servers delivering apps and services over the internet to connected devices and desktops. That level of accessibility (log in wherever there is an internet connection), and the functionality for multiple users to share virtual space, creates the expansive quality which gives the cloud its name.
The cloud at work
The cloud works so well for small businesses because it offers computing power, storage and security otherwise unavailable to limited IT budgets.
Suites like Microsoft Office 365 and Google Apps cover everything from spreadsheets and word processing to presentations and email, while services like Dropbox and Box offer entry-level storage and backup.
The cloud represents valuable flexibility: export all of your IT infrastructure to the cloud or opt for a hybrid approach, purchase a public cloud package, or go for a private server dedicated to your specific business needs. Cloud platforms, services and apps can be fine-tuned to enhance and expand your business in exactly the way you choose.
Do you need the cloud?
Once you understand what it is, it’s time to ask whether it’s worth the time and resources necessary to migrate to the cloud.
Cost savings: The cloud reduces or eliminates the need to purchase on-site hardware and software. Furthermore, cloud software packages are scalable – add and drop apps to your infrastructure as business needs change.
Collaboration: No more searching for meeting space or huddling round desks. The cloud lets multiple users – clients or colleagues – access projects from desktops or personal devices, creating, editing and discussing progress in real time, anywhere in the world. Distance is no longer a factor – childcare and transport issues can also be accommodated more smoothly into your set-up.
Security: Some cloud tools are able to provide in-built defences against cyber-threats like hacking and malware. Additionally, data hosted on the cloud is automatically backed up, meaning an extra level of protection from data loss and disasters, like fire and flooding.
Making the jump
We’ve examined the most significant cloud fundamentals, but there are other factors to consider before you migrate. Are you comfortable moving your data to third-party servers? Is your business’ internet connection robust enough to take advantage of cloud benefits?
Most importantly, you need to find the right solution for your business and make sure it offers all the functionality your business requires as it continues to grow.
Look before you leap is the message, but, with new services and apps emerging all the time, the longer you wait to get to grips with the cloud, the longer you’re missing out on a powerful set of tools that could give your business a crucial advantage.
• Steve Ross is managing director of Shackleton Technologies